DISCUSSION: “The Egg and the Sperm”

For the first person to write a response: respond to Martin’s essay. For every subsequent person to respond: respond to something the last person to post said.

10 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: “The Egg and the Sperm”

  1. I think Martin’s most important argument in her paper is the overall idea that science can have biased language. In the last couple paragraphs of the article, she sums up this idea, saying that “More crucial, then, than what kinds of personalities we bestow on cells is the very fact that we are doing it at all.” I thought her argument that scientists are imposing gender stereotypes on their descriptions of scientific processes was interesting to consider, and though I did not completely agree with her argument in all places or I thought it went a bit too far, it made me aware of the fact that biased language is a possibility even in science, which I had never really thought about before. One place where I didn’t like the way she argued her point was at the bottom of page 500, where she throws in some assumptions that seem to push a political agenda about abortion. Abortion and fetus viability is a complex topic that I think requires much more discussion and explanation instead of the very brief, seemingly biased description she presents. I was also a bit confused about her argument on the bottom of page 499 about how cybernetic models can play a part in “the imposition of social control,” and what she meant about social control relating to patients and social work.

  2. To take Katherine’s point about the overall idea that “science can have biased language.” I would even extract from the article the idea that language is never void of bias from. Being bilingual and bicultural this is very clear to me since the same word seemingly translated directly from one language to another can have a different connotation. It makes sense to me that language is biased because it is a human construct. I think the writer, being an anthropologist, is very aware of this and is applying it to the field of science which people usually deem as “level headed” and void of human emotion.
    In terms of Katherine’s dislike for the writer’s argument at the bottom of page 500, I think it’s important to remember that the writer is trying to do something that is very difficult. How do you write about bias without a bias? How do you read about bias without a bias? Since the writer is attempting to deconstruct bias, I see it as the reader’s job to deconstruct their own bias to meet half way. In other words, I made every effort to read the writer’s evidence without interpreting her evidence other than how she presents it to me. This was a very hard thing to do since I am quite an opinionated person. Rereading her paragraph at the bottom of page 500 about abortion, I don’t think the writer is necessarily trying to make a direct connection between the stereotyped language of egg and sperm to people’s opinions against abortion. I mean yes, the two are in the same sentence so she is indeed making a connection. But I think she’s referring to the more subtle and unconscious thinking that can be instilled through biased language rather than a direct causational relationship between the two.

  3. This is in response to Katherine’s posting. To begin, I didn’t understand much of this article. I’m not huge on biology and it hasn’t ever come easily to me. Thus, I felt like many of the specifics in this article went over my head. I did pull a message from it though: even with scientific language and quantitative language, it’s easy to put a bias on writing. Phrases such as “we would do well to be aware,” and other suggestive intros to factual evidence skew the opinion of the reader before they even read the evidence. In response to your confusion about page 499, I think that this pertains to when new knowledge was gained about the study of the “psychosocial” aspect of people rather than simple their biological makeup. Thus, as new information was gained, such as “the patient’s family and its psychodynamics,” adds knowledge that a doctor can use to treat the patient and learn more about their conditions. I agree wholeheartedly with your point about page 500. I think that the language she uses, such as “deliberate ‘human’ action” are totally leading and inappropriate in this instance. Not to get too specific, but she makes it sound as if every successfully fertilized egg was done on purpose and thus cannot be considered accidental. Furthermore, she argues that the new technology we have to see fetal development will obviously lead to the reduction of abortion rights, which is a very strong statement to make and is one filled with preconceived notions. To sum up, I found most of this article confusing, and found her argument leading in a way I didn’t appreciate. Also, thank you to Katherine for responding first…I really didn’t want to and you took one for the team!

  4. In response to Sung-Min’s post, I agree with much about what she has to say about the biases in this article. In an article arguing against stereotypes, there is always going to be bias. In any argument, there is going to be bias because thats why you are arguing in the first place. I cannot relate because I am not bilingual, but the concept of language itself being bias seems pretty valid because language is ultimately whatever the speaker makes of it. I also attempted to read this without bias, but also had trouble because some of Martin’s argument seemed so stretched.
    I spent a majority of this article pretty confused because I am not great at science. Although I didn’t entirely agree with Martin, she proved to me that even scientific language could be bias and encourage stereotypes. Even though I agree with her about that point, I had a hard time agreeing with some of her other points. Some of her arguments felt like she was reaching a little bit and that she was looking a little too much into. Maybe it is just me, but I wouldn’t be overly triggered if the stereotypes were flipped and it was the sperm that was looked at in a more passive manner.

  5. Like a few of my classmates, I found myself very confused by this reading. Though I was a bit taken back by the arguments made, I was able to step back after reading and form an idea of the points Martin made. Similarly to Freddie, I am also not bilingual and therefore could not relate to Sung-Min’s point, but I believe that it is less about language and more about connotation. Though this may be true when translating for different languages, I believe that perception/connotation of what is said is very often a reflection of differing lingo or slang. For example, my Chicago-native roommate referred to a poster I hung up as “raw” and I had no idea whether or not that meant good, bad or whatever else. Then again, when it comes to United States regional slang and the difference between American and British English, they might as well be completely different languages in some instances.
    Aside from what previous classmates have said, (and I may be completely wrong in saying this) I felt as though the relationship between gender norms, expectations, etc and the scientific language being used to describe the sperm and the egg is a tricky one. It really made me question whether or not the scientific language was a reflection of societal norms or are just coincidentally similar. This point, though, does reflect Freddie’s point that Martin did seem to try to “stretch” points a bit farther than seemed possible, and I do agree with his final point involving role reversal.

    • girl where science has been a part of her life since the age of 10, I never connected the relationship between gender norms and scientific language so I found this article pretty interesting. I think Martin chose a very common topic to argue about, gender stereotypes, but she used a very creative lens, scientific language. I do agree with Freddie, like Bryce, that at some points it did feel like she was reaching, but I believe she got her point across and was valid.
      One of the main things Martin discusses is the language used to describe female and male biological processes. It’s clear to see based on her evidence that there is a more negative connotation in the words used to female biology. Freddy does bring up a good point about what if the roles were reversed in this article. If that were the case, Martin’s argument would still stand, but the male biological process would be seen as less worthy. With that, I felt like this article was more for a push for equality in the use of descriptive language.

    • I didn’t really feel confused, but like Bryce I was taken a back by the argument. Coming from a girl where science has been a part of her life since the age of 10, I never connected the relationship between gender norms and scientific language so I found this article pretty interesting. I think Martin chose a very common topic to argue about, gender stereotypes, but she used a very creative lens, scientific language. I do agree with Freddie, like Bryce, that at some points it did feel like she was reaching, but I believe she got her point across and was valid.
      One of the main things Martin discusses is the language used to describe female and male biological processes. It’s clear to see based on her evidence that there is a more negative connotation in the words used to female biology. Freddy does bring up a good point about what if the roles were reversed in this article. If that were the case, Martin’s argument would still stand, but the male biological process would be seen as less worthy. With that, I felt like this article was more for a push for equality in the use of descriptive language.

      (incorrectly copied my response from Word earlier.)

  6. I am in the same boat as some of my other classmates. This article was a little confusing. I think despite some of the complexities, I understand the general points it is getting across. I am not sure I totally agree with all of the points. The idea of gender inequality has certainly existed before, but I think that some of these points have aged out. The only science classes I took in high school were biology and anatomy, and in both my classes spent much more time focusing on the female reproductive system. This was because it was much more complex. In both instances of me studying this system have I ever been exposed to such visceral language as Martin brought up in her article.
    While I don’t agree with her main point, I agree with Freddy when he thinks that science language can enforce gender stereotypes. I think my own instances may have been an outlier because they happened in a more equal environment in comparison to the books and research that Martin pulled from. I really enjoyed Sung-Min’s perspective. Connotation differences from being bilingual is a very interesting perspective regarding this article.
    Ultimately I didn’t really find this article very appealing.

  7. I can understand my classmates’ confusion and rejection of the idea that common, scientific language is charged with gender stereotypes. Will argued that he felt more of the opposite way about the female reproductive system because it is so complex, and therefore is generally studied more in depth. I had the same thought as I was reading. I also have taken 3 years and one semester of Bio thus far in my life, so I’m very familiar with the way egg and sperm are described. However, being a woman, I can see where the writer is coming from: Marten examines how gender stereotypes are reflected in rhetoric used to describe natural phenomena. I think this is a very interesting task to take on and she makes several fair points. These points, however, could be stated much more simply than she does. I think this is the source of everyone’s general confusion. Her quotes are nicely integrated but poorly sequenced. I got lost after several pieces of evidence were used to support a reiteration of the same point. Yes, science should not describe either the egg or the sperm as an aggressor or as passive agents because this wording is too close to the rhetoric used to describe male and female gender stereotypes. I think Marten is trying to argue that we should all be aware of prejudice that lies dormant but continues to promote unhealthy bias. I whole heartedly agree with that. But maybe, Marten went a bit too far in pushing her point through this particular example.

  8. In response to Will’s post, I would have to agree that some of her argument was not crystal clear to the typical reader. However, in regards to his point about not experience first hand a lot of biased language, I both agree and disagree. I would definitely consider myself a science person, and have very much enjoyed taking biology classes both in high school and now at Tufts as well. When reading several of the many quotes Martin included as evidence in her article, there were certainly some phrases that sounded quite familiar. Even small terms like eggs being ‘shed’ or ‘oogenesis is wasteful’ do seem to wield more power placed in this context. I will say though, this could easily be hindsight bias on my part as I reflect back on the many textbook passages I have read about the topic.
    Overall, I do have to agree with the majority of my classmates and say that a lot of Martin’s argument seems a bit stretched. Merely the fact that she felt the need to include so many excerpts from textbooks and scientific writing took away from her point for me. She also have plenty of sources from which to pick and choose, and thus was able to paint a picture that gave the most support to her argument, not necessarily the most accurate picture. This could definitely account for why Will did not encounter such tilted language in his classes.

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